Rachel Peterson

It occurred to me on my first day in Europe, as I struggled through the Brussels international airport carrying my weight in luggage, that everything about me-from my marshmallow gray coat (too big to fit in the suitcase) to the travel document pouch on my waist that I was trying to hide (sexy)-screamed American. There was no point in trying to hide it. The Europeans around me were all the epitome of chic, carrying little black bags and wearing little black shoes and little black coats. Black is a very big thing here. And, unlike me, they seemed to have some idea of where they were going.

All Americans traveling to a different country want desperately to fit in there. We try to do everything within our power to avoid looking like “tourists” and “yuppies.” But even as we praise ourselves for our cleverness, we are surrounded by natives who are, let’s face it, laughing at our pathetic attempts.

European fashion is on a completely different scale than it is in the United States-particularly Miami University. Perhaps a New Yorker would not look obvious here, sheathed in black with a cell phone against one ear and striding with purpose toward a destination. But Miamians are not New Yorkers. In fact, it’s almost ridiculously easy to spot a MUDEC student, even in the middle of a crowded street in Luxembourg City. The student will, inevitably, have one or more of the following that will scream “American” more loudly than Ty Pennington with a megaphone.

1. A Northface jacket. 2. Ugg boots. 3. A polo.4. Khaki pants and boat shoes.5. A Vera Bradley bag6. Sweatpants7. A very confused look

These things would not seem out of place at Miami-in fact, they would be commonplace (except for No. 6, unless you’re trying to remember how you got home last night), but being in Europe is like Dorothy being dropped into Oz. We’re not in Kansas anymore and people are staring at our metaphorical blue checkered dresses.

Style here is about always looking put-together. Always. One can find oneself in a train station at 5 a.m. feeling like death, and promptly be passed by a woman who looks like she just walked off the cover of Vogue (she will inevitably be holding hands with a man who should be the cover model for GQ). Appearance is absolutely crucial here and people rarely seem to go out without looking their absolute best.

The go-to ensemble for a European woman seems to be the following: black or colored tights, high-heeled boots, a dress and any number of accessories (most commonly a colorful scarf or hat). As for the men, I’ve lost count of how many John Doe’s I’ve seen who are dressed in strategically torn jeans, expensive-looking leather shoes, a button down shirt and a scarf. Hair? Perfectly gelled.

The choice left facing American students abroad is simply whether or not they want to adapt. I love tights, so I wear more of them. The heels? Well, I think my feet will thank me three months from now when I can still walk. And perhaps the boys will start throwing on scarves (though money-wise, they should skip the Italian shoes). We can learn a thing or two from European style, and maybe they can learn from us too.

Because quite frankly, running out to the store in a pair of sweatpants is still a beautiful thing.

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